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The Emergence of the European Public Sphere?, Vol. 8 - 2001, No. 1

, , pages: 5-20

This introduction discusses some of the problems of applying the concept of the public sphere to the current situation in the European Union. The EU is a body that is beginning to have many of the features that were historically associated with states, and therefore the issues of openness to public scrutiny that occasioned the birth of the classical public sphere begin to become important in this new context. The citizens of the EU gain their information mostly from the mass media, but these remain predominantly organised along the lines of the constituent states of the Union, rather than on any genuinely transnational basis. This means that there is always a tension between the discussion of issues as European issues and their discussion as issues of national interest within Europe. The concept of a public sphere is a much-contested one, and it is important to determine whether it is the correct starting point for considering the openness of political processes in the EU. The introduction reviews some of the issues, and concludes that it seems very difficult to hold on to some of the strong formulations that are associated with the category. On the other hand, the idea of the public sphere in its more radical formulation illuminates very clearly some of the issues of the practice of democratic political life that are currently absent from, and urgently needed by, the European Union. Modified to take account of what is now known about the reality of public life, and linked more closely to concepts of social and political action, the concept can provide a useful starting point for further enquiry.

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, pages: 21-38

This article is based on the results of an eight-country study on national media coverage of European political and cultural affairs, which included the final week of the European Parliament election campaigns. The research was carried out during two monitoring periods in 1999 with the co-operation of partner institutes in France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Coverage of the campaigns in each country provided an opportunity to examine media debates during a political event at a level above the nation-state. The coding of news items and articles allowed for a quantitative assessment of news coverage and frequency of reference to particular topics, while a qualitative overview of coverage by national experts facilitated the comparison of national debates. While the elections represent a process of political participation outside the national sphere, there is no corresponding common sphere of debate, which can be examined in relation to this exercise of citizenship. Comparing the activity in the various national spheres highlighted some of the distinct national ideas and debates about European Union membership while also bringing to the fore some common concerns and debates which reflect growing political and economic integration.

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, pages: 39-58

This article analyses alternative media on the Internet media forms produced by social movements and grassroots groups. A framework for analysing alternative media on the Internet is devised using a wide range of theoretical literature, in particular theories of the public sphere and of social movements. Within a public sphere context, alternative media on the Internet could offer an alternative to mass media by using different production practices, such as those fostering capacities for reflection on the experiences of media audiences. Within a social movement context, alternative media on the Internet could help movement actors reach their political aims, or help maintain a movement by supporting alternative forms of selfunderstanding, friendship networks and communities. Empirical research using the framework was conducted over a two-and-a-half year period on the Womenslink mailing list that linked women.s organisations in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The findings contribute to further understanding of the Internet and the transnational public sphere.

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, pages: 59-74

Over the last twenty years there has been a change of political regime from state controlled markets to market liberalisation. This article asks how are these changes affecting the role of the public sphere? The particular case is the economic crisis of Finland in the 1990s. The article looks at interviews of the country's most important political decision-makers: how do they perceive the role of politics and public in the new market regime? A new political culture favouring the market over the state, the private over the public and the experts over the politicians seem to appear. The elite interviews reveal an antipolitical and antipublic discourse, which tries to negate the relevance or to narrow the scope of public discussion. A formal transnational European democracy is not, however, a simple solution to these problems. The Finnish example shows how the antipublic forces of economic expertise and bureaucracy are emphasised also on the European level. Thus it is suggested that rather than choosing between national or transnational public sphere, we need to study how the public life is embedded in the structures of political power, how various political ideologies and powers aim at colonising or closing the public sphere.

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, pages: 75-94

The article evaluates European Union broadcasting policy in the context of the democratic deficit. It argues that it is essential to understand the democratic deficit in terms of communicative action, but this entails the question of media policy and specifically broadcasting, as one of the dominant mediums in which citizens participate in public life. In outlining the basic nature of the European Commission's approach to broadcasting, the work employs the concepts of internal and external pluralism heuristically. Applying these two categories to the Commission's decisions on State aid and competition policy, in order to assess how European Union media policy hangs together to form a comprehensive approach to media regulation. It challenges what has become the orthodoxy in reviews of European audiovisual policy and argues that the Commission has adopted a mature sense of the importance of broadcasting in the democratic process. At the same time however, the idea that the democratic deficit can be fruitfully approached through broadcasting initiatives is undermined due to the restricted access the Commission has to the broadcasting sector in the regulatory sphere, where the Member States retain power.

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, pages: 95-108

This article examines the nature and relevance of Habermas' theory of the public sphere in the present European situation. The paper notes that the current debate in the English-speaking world is not matched by a similar discussion in Germany. This is partly because Habermas' classic text was first published in Germany in 1962, and the considerable discussion it provoked ran out of steam some years ago. The Anglo-Saxon debate differs from its German predecessor in two important ways. In the first place, the choice of the phrase public sphere as a translation for the original Öffentlichkeit introduced issues into the English discussion, notably the spatial metaphor, that were absent from the German original. Secondly, in the German-speaking world there has been a much longer and broader discussion of Öffentlichkeit, lasting for more than a century, and concentrating particularly on literary and aesthetic issues. Very far from appearing as a startlingly original insight, as it did in the English-speaking world, Habermas' work was understood in Germany as a small part of this more general tradition.

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, , pages: 109-113

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